Joey Crouch knows his mother has raised him in a sort of bubble and though he doesn't exactly know why, he's actually ok with it. Having never left Chicago, he has spent most of his life in a small apartment, with only one good friend to talk to, but knowing only that life is what really gets him through the days. He's, at the very least, content.
When his mother dies unexpectedly, Joey is sent to Iowa to live with a father he has never met and knows absolutely nothing about. What he finds is an incredibly strange man...a social pariah who quite obviously wants nothing to do with Joey and outwardly expresses his disgust at being saddled with a kid he doesn't want. Combine that with the torture Joey begins to endure at his new school, both at the hands of his peers and even a teacher, and this kid's life really is pure horror.
The secrets his dad guards closely are soon uncovered and the Joey is sucked into an unimaginable lifestyle. He learns unconventional lessons from his father in a manner that is both completely off-putting and totally exhilarating. A completely unique method of father-son bonding for sure, wrapped up in a detailed, smartly-written package.
I was more than grossed out while reading this book! I squirmed in my chair and made sure not to eat while reading, yet I could not put it down. I had to know what happened to Joey and his father, but it was a whole lot more than that. I learned more about dead people than I ever thought possible from a YA fiction story and I found myself running to the computer to look up tidbits to see whether or not they were true.
It's not a book for everyone. I chose this for my YA Book Club for Adults selection this month and one member flat-out hated it and I can totally understand why. You have to have a really open mind to read a story as gruesome as this one in order to appreciate the truly fantastic writing style. The details are impressive, but those very details could also turn certain readers away.
The bullying is extreme and I often had to take reading breaks during those portions, because it was just horrifying. I sincerely hope no child ever experiences the things that Joey must go through. I really wanted to reach in the book and take him away from those terrible people, even though it was necessary to the plot line!
For me, it was a 5-star book. I had to suspend my disbelief for a lot of it, but the author did such an amazing job at creating the characters and the society their lives revolved around, along with the elements of description and unique setting, that I just loved it. Well...loved it as much as one can love a book about dead bodies, extreme bullying, and unloving parents. :)
I would only hand this to older teens or adults for subject matter reasons.